Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

2 out of 5

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

In argument for how media should adapt to its format, the Uncharted video game series absolutely – knowingly – ripped off the Indiana Jones format of the adventuring, womanizing, always-with-the-wise-guy-routine archaeologist, then sprinkled the historical basis of Jones’ questing with – for the first few games – sci-fi tinged twists, that definitely veered the series into (to those of us that enjoyed these wrinkles) territory that made it feel different from your standard tomb raider platformers.  And because it was a game, everything could be amped up to superheroics and spectacle of insane scale.  Ever since they’ve been talking about an Uncharted movie, while, as a fan of the games, I’d definitely see it, I have been rather glad that it’s been unable to get off the ground, because I can’t imagine it would be that unique: Marvel movies and this era of technological achievements in blockbusters in general have brought us spectacle galore; and we’ve seen the pinnacle of Nathan Drakeness on screen already via Harrison Ford in one amazing film and two damn good ones.  It… would likely end up looking quite a bit like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: a film trying to make good on its source material (in this case, the original trilogy) while also scaling to the current era and format, and not able to reconcile the two; a.k.a. a big ol’ question mark of Why?

When Die Hard moved into the modern era, the movie made a point of riffing on John McClane’s age, and this tied into the movie’s digital-centric plot.  About twenty years have passed in the Indiana Jones cinematic world – Last Crusade took place in ’38, Crystal Skull takes place in ’57 – but that’s really only used to enhance the nostalgia: to linger on the man putting on his iconic hat; to make the return / mention of some previously seen characters have more importance.  Otherwise, this is just another Indiana Jones adventure: he’s tracking one thing, gets roped into another – a hunt for the titular skull, which is tied into a city of gold and Russian-sought (our 50s badguys, replacing the Nazis) mystical abilities to control mankind – except in the real life years between our last film and now, the ability to not rely on practical effects so much has happened, and the aforementioned movies have happened, and, uh, Uncharted happened.  Jones may have gotten into insane scuffles, but the practicality of the stunt work (especially in Raiders and Doom) kept the visuals stunningly engaging and exciting.  With the aging Ford understandably requiring more frequent stand-ins for fisticuffs, we not only have a sense of remove in the blocking of his sequences, but every event is a swirl of computer glitz, and it just gets bigger and bigger and bigger as things go on.  It… doesn’t feel like an Indiana Jones movie, except for the character smirking in the foreground.  Nor does the plot, really, which again does a snake-eating-its-own-tail of swiping inspiration from something that originally swiped from it – Uncharted – and shifting the mystical bits into, like, sci-fi bits.  (I also felt like they revealed this connection multiple times, but tried to present it like it was stunning each time…)

On the surface, this stuff works – the sequences are well conceived and certainly well shot – there’s just no need for the movie in the modern era.  It doesn’t add anything to the Indiana character or world, and it’s otherwise just another action movie.  Cate Blanchett feels oddly understated as the Russian badguy – as though, similar to our movie’s struggle to balance its classic and modern mentalities, she couldn’t figure out how campy she was supposed to be – and Shia LaBeouf is quite enjoyable as this flick’s tagalong, but at the same time, there’s a brief attempt to 50s up the joint with his biker style, and it’s a joke that feels like it soon gets left behind when its usurped by the non-stop CGI jazziness.

In other news, it would dawn on Spielberg that this didn’t really work too well as a live action movie, so he remade it into the goddamned amazing Tintin.